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Revisiting an Iconic Moment in the Creepy Classical Canon

Over the course of several years of annual, October-long Halloween celebrations here, you would think that at some point, Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition would have made an appearance. No dice. The Chelsea Symphony‘s performance of that staple of the horror-classical canon got a big thumbs-up here...but that was in January of 2016.

Fast forward to 2021: the Chelsea Symphony’s beloved executive director has moved on and the group are as imperiled as any other performing arts organization outside the free world. But there is a very straightforward, energetic 2018 live recording at Spotify by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (both featured here earlier this month) which has plenty of creepy moments.

For those unfamiliar with the suite, the composer wrote it as a requiem for his painter friend Victor Hartmann, inspired by a posthumous retrospective of his work. It’s a wildly successful attempt to bring those paintings to life within the context of a leisurely, pensive gallery tour. In reality, Moussorgsky’s memory of several of the pictures on display was either fuzzy, or he deliberately gave them a much creepier interpretation. The original suite is for solo piano; Maurice Ravel orchestrated it in 1922. That’s what the orchestra are working with here.

The creepiness doesn’t start immediately, Noseda leading the listener into the gallery via a firmly reverential stroll. Ravel’s genius is in highlighting every available bit of phantasmagoria. Case in point: the twinkling second segment, The Gnome, which Noseda picks up boisterously at the end.

Fueled by the low brass and deliciously fluttery, ghostly strings, this broodingly waltzing take of The Old Castle is a keeper for anybody’s Halloween party playlist. Those cattle in the pasture? Definitely up to no good, beneath an increasingly stormy sky.

The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks is on the goofy, cartoonish side of Halloween music. But Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, the two Jews out for a Shabbat stroll, are definitely keeping an eye out for trouble. Interestingly, Noseda’s interpretation of the catacomb scene is much louder and emphatic – and less haunting – than other conductors usually portray it. Maybe that choice was to set up the distant ominousness of the land of the dead – and then a rise to the bellicose menace of Baba Yaga’s Hut afterward.

The rest of the suite is relatively more lighthearted: proto-ragtime Tuileries, an anxious Limoges market scene and a dynamically rich, stately portrait of the (completely fictitious) Great Gate of Kiev.

This album opens with a similarly dynamic, persistently restless concert recording of Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Although it has plenty of sturm und drang, characterizing it as Halloween music would be a stretch. The fateful angst and moody balletesque variations of the first movement, moments of gorgeous bittersweetness and torment of the second, unexpectedly carnivalesque touches in the third and boisterous swirl in the conclusion all testify to how sensitively Noseda and the orchestra approach it.

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

Sometimes Brass Box’s album The Cathedral – streaming at Bandcamp – totally nails a David Lynch soundtrack atmosphere. Other times the group totally nail a dark 80s new wave sound. Either way, their songs are catchy and tightly focused, frontwoman/bassist Ammo Bankoff channeling clear-eyed abandonment and despondency over the chilly echo and swirl.

The album opens with the title track, a mutedly galloping Pink Floyd Run Like Hell riff anchoring Neil Popkin and Matt Bennett’s broodingly echoey mix of guitars that explode in a ringing dreampop vortex on the chorus, Bankoff’s searching, anxious vocals awash in the icy mist.

With its resonant, reverberating deep-space sonics and wistful, starry backdrop, the second track, DDM could be the Lost Patrol. Surrender is not the Cheap Trick teen-rebellion anthem but a dead ringer for Siouxsie & the Banshees circa 1982, right down to the watery chorus-box guitar and prominent bass.

They follow the atmospheric, enveloping goth rock tune Latency with the allusively catchy Waves, which rise to some gorgeously Eastern European-tinged vocal harmonies on the chorus. Then they hit a steady, fast new wave groove with Towne, the album’s hardest-rocking track.

The record’s slowest track, Roses, comes across as a dreampop update on the more skeletal material on Unknown Pleasure-era Joy Division. The band go back to Lynchian/dreampop mashup mode with Ivory Skies and close the album with Parting Ways, a song they should have parted with prior to sequencing the record. On one hand, all the sounds that Brass Box evoke have been around for decades. On the other, nobody has figured out how to blend them quite like this.

Magos Herrera Brings Her Elegant, Genre-Defying, Poignant Songcraft to a Popular Outdoor Queens Spot

Singer Magos Herrera‘s music spans the worlds of jazz, film themes, contemporary classical and many styles from her native Mexico. This blog has witnessed her in a rapturous, intimate duo performance with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Javier Limon, as well as a much more lush and politically-fueled set with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. When live music was criminalized throughout much of the world in 2020, she turned to the web for supporting musicians. The result is Con Alma, the most eclectic album of an amazingly eclectic career, an “operatic tableau on isolation” streaming at Bandcamp. Herrera is back in action in New York, with a 7 PM gig outdoors on Halloween night at Terraza 7, where she’s leading a quintet. The Elmhurst venue is best known for jazz, so that’s probably going to be what Herrera brings to the stage, but knowing her, anything is possible.

The album is a mix of energetic acoustic guitar-driven numbers, imaginative pieces for orchestra and vocals and choral works. As you would expect from an album created during the lockdown, there’s an ever-present apprehension, but also hope. As fascinating as this music is, you will want to skip track seven – a found-sound collage on which Herrera does not appear – which contains PTSD-inducing samples of social engineering run hideously amok, a 2020 artifact best buried forever.

The first track is La Creación de las Aves, Vinicius Gomes’ circling, nimbly fingerpicked  acoustic guitar loop anchored by Jeffrey Zeigler’s sweeping cello and Gonzalo Grau’s lithely understated cajon.

Tree of 40 Fruit begins as an uneasily close-harmonied soundscape, layers of wordless vocals by Constellation Chor‘s Marisa Michelson blended with a little crowd-sourced spoken word on themes of isolation and alienation. She quickly builds it to an anguished series of peaks: the effect of all the multitracks wipes away any sense of loneliness or abandonment.

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joins with guitarist Romero Lubambo for moody but energetic dynamics in Rojo Sol, a bristling, flamenco-tinged ballad. Alma Muerta, a choral collaboration with Ensemble Sjaella rises from a desolate, Gregorian chant-influenced atmosphere to a web of stricken, shocked operatic riffs.

With her broodingly impassioned vocalese, Herrera and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería reinvent the album’s title cut – a Dizzy Gillespie hit – as a shapeshifting mini-suite, moving from cumulo-nimbus orchestration to a delicately bouncy, balletesque rhythm.

Ensemble Sjaella return for Fratres, by Paola Prestini, Herrera and the choir moving uneasily between early Renaissance-flavored ornamentation, grey-sky ambience and tremoloing atmospherics.

The lush treble counterpoint of Prestini’s Thrush Song, sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, offers a glimpse of hope. Herrera and her Mexican orchestral colleagues wind up the album with a strikingly stark, gracefully rhythmic take of Cucurrucucú, a longing-infused ballad made famous by Mexican singer Ana María González in 1954.

Individualistic, Dark Heavy Psychedelia and Guitar Duels From Deathchant

What could be more appropriate for Halloween month than a band called Deathchant? They play a distinctive, careening blend of heavy psychedelia and doom metal. Their twin-guitar attack is more colorful and high-midrangey – a ringing, vintage Gibson-style sound rather than a digital crunch – the usual sludge in the stoner metal tarpit. Their latest album Waste is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track is Rails, a trebly boogie with a little detour into spacerock. If Molly Hatchet had been raised north of the Mason-Dixon line, and grew up on Sabbath instead of the Allman Brothers, they might have sounded something like this, right down to the guitar duel between frontman T.J. Lemieux and John Belino.

Likewise, the twin leads on Black Dirt, a brisk instrumental propelled by bassist George Camacho and drummer Colin Fahrner. And when the joust begins, look out, there’s blood all over the place. The band slow down for Holy Roller and its mix of snarling chromatic riffage, twin leads and raw noise. Then they pick up the pace again with Gallows and Lemieux’s distinctive, slashingly catchy, Atlantean solo (that’s the city, not the continent).

The album’s title track rises out of a gloomy mist to a bluesy metal charge worthy of the MC5, then the band take it further into Sabbath territory. They go back to riff-rock boogie for Plague, with more of those twin leads, whiplash licks from Lemieux, and an unexpectedly brooding chorus. They close the record with Maker, a catchy ba-bump instrumental theme driven by Lemieux’s whirling riffage. In keeping with the band’s spontaneous approach, he’s been known to vary the lineup, but he’s really pulled together a good one here. Imagine what this crew could do if they brought in a couple of other guitarists for a heavy Plan 9-style psychedelic attack.

Virgil Boutellis-Taft Puts Out One of the Most Darkly Beguiling Classical Albums of Recent Years

It’s been a lot of fun mining the dark side of the classical canon this month…and the fun isn’t over yet! One of the most diversely entertaining, dark-themed classical records of recent years is violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft‘s new album Incantation with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, streaming at Spotify. His approach is disarmingly direct and typically understated: overall, this is about mystery far more than the macabre.

He and the ensemble open with an aptly lush, starkly dynamic, moody take of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. Max Bruch was not Jewish, but he liked to plunder Jewish melodies – in this case, the prayer for the dead – rather than reaching for a faux-Romany sound as so many of his contemporaries did when they needed an extra jolt of minor-key intensity.

Tomaso Antonio Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor is one of the great classical mystery stories. We don’t know when it was written, but it was obviously radical for the baroque era. We know next to nothing about the composer and those who first resurrected it. Some investigators have suggested that the piece was deliberately misattributed in order to deflect possible criticism of its strikingly forward-looking chromatics. Boutellis-Taft holds onto the piece’s wicked ornamentation with a vise-grip legato as the orchestra looms and pulses menacingly behind him.

Saint-Saëns’ iconic Danse Macabre has been featured on this page innumerable times. This version of the witchy tarantella is distinguished by Boutellis-Taft’s gleeful vibrato, the forceful presence of the flutes, and an unusually persistent, skittish tension – which makes obvious sense in context. And the reaper doesn’t tiptoe out here – he leaves with a sinister flourish. He’ll be back!

Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique is exactly that, muted but purposeful. As with the Bruch work here, it’s a showcase for Boutellis-Taft’s resonant low midrange expressiveness, but also vigorously colorful attack in the upper registers. He makes a memorable return to Jewish themes with Ernest Bloch’s Nigun, from the Baal Shem suite, lit up by quicksilver ornamentation over an ominously Asian-tinged pentatonic theme. It’s a welcome addition to the classical heavy metal canon – and that’s meant as a compliment.

Ernest Chausson’s Poème pour Violon et Orchestre, op. 25, the longest piece on the program here, launches from an uneasily dreamy woodwind-driven tableau that eventually falls away on the wings of Boutellis-Taft’s wary solo. This is the most lavishly orchestrated yet most subtle performance here, darkly celestial rather than stygian.

Boutellis-Taft closes the album with Yumeji’s Theme, by Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi, a brief, melancholy, marionettishly waltzing recent work from the soundtrack to the film In the Mood for Love.

Bleak Anthems For a Bleak Year From Blackwater Holylight

Blackwater Holylight are one of the most original and intriguing dark rock bands around. They started out as an improbably successful mashup of Black Sabbath and the Cure with a woman out front, then on their second album left much of the 80s behind for a heavier sound. Their third release, Silence/Motion is just out and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the band’s most straightforwardly dark and quietest release yet, no surprise considering this year’s zeitgeist.

The first track is Delusional: a spare, lingering dirge introduces a venomous, growling, swaying anthem. Frontwoman/bassist Sunny Faris joins forces with guest vocalists Bryan Funck and Mike Paparo for Exorcist gasp-and-rasp over Sarah McKenna’s funereal organ, guitarist Mikayla Mayhew adding simple, single-note leads over drummer Eliese Dorsay’s supple beat.

Faris is a more distant, ghostly presence in Who the Hell, a surreal blend of the Cure at their most gothic and Tangerine Dream, but heavier than either of those two bands. She and Mayhew switch instruments on the title track, Dorsay’s muted martial volleys driving a rainy-day acoustic guitar-and-piano theme toward fullscale gothic majesty, then falling away elegantly.

Imagine Sonic Youth with lithe bass, echoey keys and a competent singer, and you get Falling Faster. Faris and Mayhew exchange axes again for MDIII, a swaying, drifting, desolate theme rising toward gritty dreampop-tinged roar.

Likewise, there’s a late 80s Lush feel in Around You: it’s the closest thing to a straight-up pop song the band’s ever done. The album’s final and most psychedelic cut is Every Corner, built around a catchy, hypnotic raga riff (Faris on guitar and Mayhew on bass) until the band hit an unexpected, increasingly sinister stoner boogie interlude.

Blackwater Holylight are on tour this fall: their next free-state show is January 21, 2022 at Trees in Dallas, Texas, opening for first-class heavy blues/psychedelic band All Them Witches.

Darkness, Light and in Between 10/25/21

Been awhile since the last playlist on this page. Some iutrigningly dark stuff, in keeping with this month’s Halloween esthetic; some lighter stuff to vary the mood. Each song title is a streaming link. Charming Disaster, Coloratura and Marianne Dissard are guaranteed ad-free; the rest are at youtube so you might want to mute your sound before clicking in order to avoid the ads.

Charming Disaster‘s Ourobouros is arguably the noir rock superduo’s hardest-rocking song. A phoenix in the making, or just a pile of bones? “Is this annihilation or metamorphosis?”

Lola Kirke‘s Monster is a pensive, slowly swaying, moody janglerocker with slide guitar.

Colatura‘s The Met is bright, shiny stuff. Imagine walking alone through the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it wasn’t an apartheid place. Then imagine if Happy Mondays hadn’t been addled by all those powder drugs and had a woman out front

Frankie & the Witch FingersMepem is a heavy, dark psychedelic soul jam with wah guitar and organ. Like Nektar covering War, with a surprise ending

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and guitarist Nels Cline cover Lullaby, by iconic 90s/zeros rock band Low, in eight-plus minutes of sonic magic. Cline plays very subtle, somber variations on a low-register riff as Schoenbeck looms in ominously and then reaches for angst. The mix of clangy chords and plaintive, spare leads from the bassoon is tasty to the extreme

And Marianne Dissard‘s ongoing series of interesting covers – the goal being her first-ever covers record – continues with a bittersweet duet cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ahead-of-its-time 1972 ballad If I Needed You with multi-instrumentalist Raphael Mann

High Romantic Drama and Heavy Metal Crush From Reasons Behind

A brief lullaby on a music box opens The Alpha Memory, the 2016 album by melodic metal band Reasons Behind streaming at Bandcamp. That bit of a tune hardly hints at the ornate crush that will begin seconds later. The group are more classically-influenced and keyboard-oriented than most, and Elisa, their frontwoman, has a disarmingly warm, intimate delivery: she’s not just out for banshee vengeance.

“There’s something growing inside of me, traveling on a one-way track,” Elisa sings with understated drama in the album’s first big anthem, Under the Surface; then the machinegunning doublebass drums and guitar roar kick in.

Guitarist Gabriel and drummer Riccardo (no last names here) go lickety-split in a tricky beat behind Elisa’s resonant vocals and Dige’s elegant keys in The Chemical Theater. With Your Light is a turbocharged pop anthem assembled around a swaying, atmospheric interlude and a momentary, spiraling synth solo. The moody piano solo at the end segues into Starlight in the Shades, Elisa ascending to an operatic intensity over a surprisingly enigmatic, rising and falling backdrop.

The simple piano theme On Butterfly Wings is a showcase for the unselfconscious poignancy in her vocals. With its twin guitar/keyboard solo along with Enrico Goya’s Steve Harris-ish bassline, the album’s heaviest song is The Ghost Under My Skin

The break for string synth and bass in the similarly pummeling 1000 Fading Lives is over too soon. Elisa’s operatic chops glisten over spare, pensive piano and string synth as the title track gathers force. The album ends up coming full circle.

There’s an element who are going to hear this and say, jeez, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Cartoon gramd guignol. Grow up, New York Music Daily! That’s ok. Sometimes it’s fun to feel like a kid again, lying on the floor with headphones blasting something like this, playing air drums, and looking forward to being able to drink in a bar instead of hiding out at home

New York’s Great Champion of Undeservedly Obscure Classical Repertoire Shares These Treasures at Her Magical Salon Series

Pianist and impresario Yelena Grinberg is New York’s greatest advocate for undiscovered and unorthodox classical repertoire. Her Upper West Side salons, founded in the Fall of 2013 as a monthly soiree, have since expanded to two thematic programs per month, and have become legendary. The Russian music site Etazhi calls them “Musical Salons for the Guinness Book.”

Grinberg graciously took some time away from her rigorous schedule of playing and teaching to give New York Music Daily the inside scoop into a New York phenomenon.

New York Music Daily: You’ve archived the programs going all the way back to Salon #1, where you played rarely-heard music by Charles-Valentine Alkan. Ever since I talked to you, I’ve been listening nonstop to his music. It’s mind-blowing. Now, I have a pretty decent exposure to lesser-known repertoire, and I have my favorite niches too, and I have vague memories of hearing one of Alkan’s organ works once. But hearing his piano music, thanks to you, has been life-changing. He sounds like nobody I’ve ever head before: Chopin and Beethoven mashed up with otherworldly old Jewish melodies, but also a rhythmic sensibility that reminds me of Hovhaness. And from a hundred years earlier! I owe you huge for this! I can’t imagine how much fun it must have been for you to play that program!

Yelena Grinberg: It was a fascinating undertaking to do all the research and perform Alkan’s unjustly neglected music. I was struck by the transcendental difficulty of the keyboard writing as well as the originality and the richness of his musical ideas. I programmed his demonic Grand Duo Concertante in F# minor, whose second movement, is entitled L’enfer  – “Hell”- for a good reason! I also played his epic Sonate de concert in E Major for cello and piano, which is among the most devilishly difficult works in the entire Romantic chamber music repertoire.

For my solo Alkan-inspired program, I performed selections from his evocative 24 Preludes, Esquisses, his enchanting Barcarolle and one of his last wild works, Toccatina. At some point in the future, I would love to program his never-heard Piano Trio.

NYMD: And he’s just one example of the innumerable lesser-known but amazing composers whose work you’ve championed. How did you discover Alkan and what drew you to his music?

YG: I can’t recall if there was one particular inspiration. I do recall that I came across an Alkan CD by Raymond Lewenthal and Marc-Andre Hamelin in the Fall of 2013, when I first began my salons, it marked the 200th anniversary Alkan’s birth, so I made him the focal composer for that season.

NYMD: Long before it became all the rage to resurrect forgotten treasures by, say, black composers, you were unearthing material that hadn’t been played in New York, maybe anywhere in the world, in a hundred years or more. I am amazed by your dedication to the cause. It must take an enormous amount of energy and sleuthing. What is your motivation, what drives you? Is this because you want to be the queen of niche, or that you’re sick of standard repertoire, or that you get bored fast? Or that you’re rewriting history to set the record straight?

YG: I was getting weary of overplayed standard repertoire and wanted to program music that was hard to find and fresh to the ear. Luckily I learn very quickly, which enables me to cover a lot of new repertoire in a short span of time. I typically build each season’s programs around the  anniversary of a celebrated or an unjustly neglected composer’s birth, for example, Charles-Valentin Alkan or Carl Czerny. I like to balance out the program with a work that everyone loves, like Franck’s Violin Sonata, along with lesser-known repertoire.

NYMD: At your salons, you always like to share insights on the material on the program . You seem completely immersed in the lore of classical music, with all the colorful characters and endless drama. With you, it’s a big epic movie. Most artists just get up and play but you seem to have as much fun engaging with the history of the music as the music itself. Is this just a performance shtick – look, Yelena is the pianist who always finds the great stories! – or do you have a more ambitious agenda here?

YG: I especially like to engage with the audience in a lecture-performance format, and I love the Q&A afterward. The majority of the people who come to my salons are not musicians, so they bring their individual interests and professional backgrounds to the conversation. The guests often tell me they appreciate the commentary, the history, they may not know a certain musical term but they enjoy the historical background and find the listening experience richer as a result.

Over the years, I’ve had some fascinating visitors at the salon such as Ruth Slenczynska, the last living pupil of Rachmaninoff, who attended my solo Alkan program back in 2013.

NYMD: As I understand it, your salons started exactly the same way a lot of regular classical series started: friends getting together to read chamber music. That’s how ICE started, how Kettle Corn New Music evolved. At what point did you realize that you were doing something that nobody else was? Was there a moment where you realized that in your own unique way, you were making New York music history?

YG: Initially, I did not expect that my salons would blossom into a regular concert series, and that I would showcase 230-plus salon programs up to this point. The initial salons were attended mostly by a handful of family members and close friends, and by word of mouth, they grew to a much larger audience over the years. I didn’t know how frequently I would end up doing these concerts. I was excited to recreate the refined, European style “hausmusik”, which is how much of this music was meant to be enjoyed in its original conception.

NYMD: Can we talk about where you find your material? For example, your most recent sold-out event featured duo works for piano and guitar. Can I ask you, are you also a fan of classical guitar? How much of this repertoire actually exists? And of the material you discovered, how much of it turned out to be worth playing? Obviously, you discovered a lot!

YG: For the lesser-known repertoire I do more extensive research to see which libraries or stores have it, and a lot of what I find comes from Europe. Thankfully, I have close connections to the music librarians at Columbia University, the Juilliard library, and the Brooklyn College library, who have been very helpful over the years in obtaining rare editions for my research and performance.

Initially, I chose the topic or the focal composer for the entire season. Then, I thoroughly research all the solo and chamber music repertoire by that composer and think of creative interconnections with the composers who were in his or her close circle of friends, pupils, and fellow composers. For instance, this year I am presenting a series inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s belated 250th birthday, and have programmed works by such lesser-known composers as C.P.E. Bach, Ferdinand Ries, Ignaz Moscheles and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn.

This summer, I presented an Enchanting Evening for Guitar and Piano – the first time I featured a guitar in my series. Turns out, there is very little music originally written for piano and guitar, and a lot of it obviously shines the spotlight on the piano. Aside from rarities like Hummel’s Potpourri for Guitar and Piano and Tedesco’s Fantasia, the majority of other works are arrangements or transcriptions. It turned out to be a kaleidoscopic program and everybody loved it. I designed it to cover 250 years – from Vivaldi to Piazzolla.

In the past, I’ve programmed music by seldom-represented women composers such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Ethel Smythe and Pauline Viardot.

And over the last few years, every February, I present an Aquarian Genius program featuring three composers born under the sign of Aquarius, namely Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

NYMD: That makes sense, if anybody understands Aquarian genius, it’s probably you, considering you have the same birthday as Mendelssohn!

YG: Thank you! I’m truly honored to share my birthday with Felix Mendelssohn.

NYMD: OK. Have you ever tried to come up with a program that didn’t get off the drawing board because enough material for it didn’t exist?

YG: I never had that quandary. When I come up with a program, it’s partly analytical and partly intuitive. I do these concerts so frequently, so my mind has to stay focused. I do very extensive research, and I always find enough repertoire to make for what, I hope, is a satisfying salon program.

NYMD: How about commissioning contemporary artists? I don’t see a lot of 20th century, let alone 21st century material on your programs. You’ve played Satie, and Piazzolla, but not much that’s more current. Is that just not your thing?

YG:  My area of interest lies in the music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. I prefer to play the music that I find intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding, that speaks to me and challenges me. That’s not to say that I’m not open to including some works from the 20th century. For instance, I will be including Gyorgy Kurtag’s atmospheric Three Pieces for violin and piano, from 1979, at my November 7 and 10 salons.

My salons are meant to be a throwback to the music of the Enlightenment so it makes sense that the material relates to that time period. I think there’s a certain joy for people to be able to anticipate the sound of a piece from a particular era, even if they don’t know that specific work. There’s a lot to be said for historical context.

NYMD: Let’s talk about your collaborators. You have a duo project with an absolutely brilliant violinist, Emilie-Anne Gendron of the Momenta Quartet. She’s pretty high-profile. Where do you find all these people to play with? Or is this just being part of the classical scene here and having a good sense of who might be a good fit for a particular bill?

YG: It’s a combination of those factors. Either a musician is recommended to me, or it is someone I’ve known and collaborated with from my years at Columbia University and Juilliard. I also consider who might be a good fit for a particular program. Interpersonal chemistry is key. In a sense, playing chamber music together is like being in a relationship. Emilie and I have been playing together since 2003, since we were both students at the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard program.

NYMD: Can we talk about you as an artist, start at square one and work forward? You were born in Moscow, started playing piano at an early age. Your mom plays, right?

YG: Yes, my mother was my first piano teacher. She went to the Gnessin Institute, and I began my professional music study at Moscow’s Gnessin School for Gifted Children at age 5.

NYMD: You had famous teachers at the Gnessin school. You were a sixth grader when you came here. Did you have your sights on being a famous pianist, or were you just a kid who liked playing?

YG: I was studying professionally, and that was probably going to be my professional path, but of course I didn’t know how my life would ultimately play out. I always had great intellectual curiosity, I wanted to expand my horizons and was very social. I knew music would always be my path but I was not sure of what I would do more of, teaching versus performing. Today, I combine both, along with coordinating my salon series…which is nearly a full-time job in and of itself [laughing].

For a long time I was fascinated by biology. I was very keen on becoming a biologist, but between the lab work and music, I chose the latter, which was my true calling. But my love of science definitely informs my salon programming. I’ve adopted a scientific approach to the way I conduct the research for the repertoire and the way that I select my programs, pair the works thematically, etcetera. This intellectually rigorous approach appeals to me much more to me than a purely emotional one.

NYMD: Can we talk about the difference between music education in Russia, and here? Was there anything that struck you immediately when you first got here?

YG: I would say that teachers’ expectations were much higher in Russia, coaches were to be obeyed and greatly admired. In US, the emphasis is much more of consumer-oriented. For instance, a student can request that he or she wants to play the Moonlight Sonata, even though they may not be at the level but because they pay for the lessons, they believe they are entitled to request the repertoire they want to work on. In Russia, teachers typically get more respect, and students are much more obedient. But a lot of that has to do with the political landscape – freedom of speech, for example, which we did not have in Russia.

NYMD: Obviously, you never stopped playing, but I see your undergraduate degree from Columbia is not in music but in English literature. You’re a Shakespeare scholar. Was this a departure from your career path, or were there other reasons involved?

YG: I always enjoyed Shakespeare – the brilliance of his writing, his razor-sharp wit, the wonderful paradoxes in his language, and the universality and timelessness of the characters in his plays. Obviously, English isn’t my first language, but I always enjoyed the subtlety and the witty banter in Shakespeare. Which you find in the music of Haydn, for example, or Schumann: the use of extra-musical narrative, the different fictional characters which remind me a lot of the Shakespearean world, Mendelssohn, of course – the way the music feeds off literature and poetry, and vice versa. I was always drawn much more to Schumann as opposed to Chopin, for example, because of the literary richness and multifaceted humor in Schumann’s music which appeals to my personality. In fact, my doctoral dissertation at Juilliard was on Late Schumann.

NYMD: Have you ever merged those two passions? Say, a Shakespeare-themed program?

YG: I have not yet… but that’s a great idea!

NYMD: Since your Columbia days, you’ve done all the usual career-track things that every other classical pianist wants to do. You studied with even more famous pianists – Richard Goode among them – and you got your doctorate from Juilliard. You played competitions and did well, you played Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and all the usual places. But you followed your own muse, off the beaten path. Was this something that just evolved or did you have a plan?

YG: The way it’s happened with the salons, I guess my path in life has always been kind of off the beaten path. I don’t concertize too much like a lot of other musicians and my home base is here in New York. I strive for balance between stability and variety. I enjoy having my own enterprise, and not having anyone to report to. And I love that I can program whatever composers that suit me for my salons. That would be much different if I had to fill a thousand seats. In an intimate salon setting, I can afford to exercise my creative license when it comes to programming,, etcetera. Luckily in New York, there are a lot of intellectually sophisticated, open-minded individuals who are drawn to the lesser-known repertoire that I present, and they enjoy coming to my salons for the enlightenment and novelty.

NYMD: As you know, I love getting a scoop, covering artists who are underrepresented in the media. I have a thing for rugged individualists. But I also have a larger agenda and that’s much more ambitious – and goes against the current corporate zeitgeist. I’ve always advocated for live performance because it gets people off their screens, back into reality, where real communities are born. I get the sense that the raison d’etre behind your salons dovetails with my agenda, at least to some extent. Am I on to something here?

YG: In a sense, yes. My salons hark back to the old tradition of “hausmusik” since the day of the Enlightenment. I wanted to revive this old and elegant tradition of music-making and thereby create a community on the Upper West Side and beyond, that would go against the current trend of increased robotization and commercialization in our society. The salons enable a lively and stimulating dialogue between the performer and the audience, in an intimate setting that, I think, is highly precious during this day and age.

NYMD: How much, if any audio exists from your salons? Is there an archive? Where can we hear it, or when will we be able to?

YG: Yes, I audio-record each salon for my own personal archive.

NYMD: You are aware that hundreds of years from now, your audio and sheet music libraries will be referred to as the “Grinberg Collection” and will be both a resource and a record of a major achievement in music history, right?

YG: You are too kind.. Should that ever happen, I would be very honored, indeed.

NYMD: Can I ask you, what’s your musical fallback? You have such a wide range of musical interests, wider than just about anybody I know. Who do you play just for you? When nobody else is listening, or for your family, or loved ones? What sets your synapses on fire more than anything else?

YG: Undoubtedly, it would be Bach. I’ve always had a special affinity for Bach’s music, which is sublime and transcendent. That’s not to say I don’t love Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, just to name a few, but Bach for me is No. 1. In the early stages of the lockdown I just kept playing Bach. His music is inspiring, empowering, and therapeutic like that of no other composer. I typically perform an all-Bach program every January. In 2016, I presented an Italian Bach program, featuring his Italian-style works, in 2018, I performed all his French Suites; in 2019, all English Suites, and in 2021, showcased seldom-heard Preludes, Fugues and Fantasies, which I entitled Rare Bach. And I am hoping to get to perform his complete Partitas in January 2022!

NYMD: What do you think the future holds for your salon?

YG: It’s so hard to even think of the future right now. I hope that my salons will continue to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, and that more people get to discover them!

Yelena Grinberg’s next salon (No. 237), entitled Romantic Beethoven, is on Wednesday, October 27 at 6:30 PM., showcasing a richly lyrical, all-Romantic program where she’ll be joined by cellist Madeline Fayette. The program includes Beethoven’s celestial Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, op. 102, no. 1, Schumann’s enchanting Five Pieces in the Folk Style for cello and piano, op. 102, Mendelssohn’s ebullient Cello Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Major, op. 45, and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn’s wistful and little-known Fantasia in G minor for cello and piano, inspired by Beethoven. This not-to-be-missed salon is a short walk from the 1/2/3 train at 96th St. To learn more and to register, email her.

sons, they believe they are entitled to request the repertoire they want to work on. In Russia, teachers typically get more respect, and students are much more obedient. But a lot of that has to do with the political landscape – freedom of speech, for example, which we did not have in Russia.

NYMD: Obviously, you never stopped playing, but I see your undergraduate degree from Columbia is not in music but in English literature. You’re a Shakespeare scholar. Was this a departure from your career path, or were there other reasons involved?

YG: I always enjoyed Shakespeare – the brilliance of his writing, his razor-sharp wit, the wonderful paradoxes in his language, and the universality and timelessness of the characters in his plays. Obviously, English isn’t my first language, but I always enjoyed the subtlety and the witty banter in Shakespeare. Which you find in the music of Haydn, for example, or Schumann: the use of extra-musical narrative, the different fictional characters which remind me a lot of the Shakespearean world, Mendelssohn, of course – the way the music feeds off literature and poetry, and vice versa. I was always drawn much more to Schumann as opposed to Chopin, for example, because of the literary richness and multifaceted humor in Schumann’s music which appeals to my personality. In fact, my doctoral dissertation at Juilliard was on Late Schumann.

NYMD: Have you ever merged those two passions? Say, a Shakespeare-themed program?

YG: I have not yet… but that’s a great idea!

NYMD: Since your Columbia days, you’ve done all the usual career-track things that every other classical pianist wants to do. You studied with even more famous pianists – Richard Goode among them – and you got your doctorate from Juilliard. You played competitions and did well, you played Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and all the usual places. But you followed your own music, off the beaten path. Was this something that just evolved or did you have a plan?

YG: The way it’s happened with the salons, I guess my path in Life has always been kind of off the beaten path. I don’t concertize too much like a lot of other musicians and my home base is here in New York. I strive for balance between stability and variety. I enjoy having my own enterprise, and not having anyone to report to. And I love that I can program whatever composers that suit me for my salons. That would be much different if I had to fill a thousand seats. In an intimate salon setting, I can afford to exercise my creative license when it comes to programming,, etcetera. Luckily in New York, there are a lot of intellectually sophisticated, open-minded individuals who are drawn to the lesser-known repertoire that I present, and they enjoy coming to my salons for the enlightenment and novelty.

NYMD: As you know, I love getting a scoop, covering artists who are underrepresented in the media. I have a thing for rugged individualists. But I also have a larger agenda and that’s much more ambitious – and goes against the current corporate zeitgeist. I’ve always advocated for live performance because it gets people off their screens, back into reality, where real communities are born. I get the sense that the raison d’etre behind your salons dovetails with my agenda, at least to some extent. Am I on to something here?

YG: In a sense, yes. My salons hark back to the old tradition of “hausmusik” since the day of the Enlightenment. I wanted to revive this old and elegant tradition of music-making and thereby create a community on the Upper West Side and beyond, that would go against the current trend of increased robotization and commercialization in our society. The salons enable a lively and stimulating dialogue between the performer and the audience, in an intimate setting that, I think, is highly precious during this day and age.

NYMD: How much, if any audio exists from your salons? Is there an archive? Where can we hear it, or when will we be able to?

YG: Yes, I audio-record each salon for my own personal archive.

NYMD: You are aware that hundreds of years from now, your audio and sheet music libraries will be referred to as the “Grinberg Collection” and will be both a resource and a record of a major achievement in music history, right?

YG: You are too kind.. Should that ever happen, I would be very honored, indeed.

NYMD: Can I ask you, what’s your musical fallback? You have such a wide range of musical interests, wider than just about anybody I know. Who do you play just for you? When nobody else is listening, or for your family, or loved ones? What sets your synapses on fire more than anything else?

YG: Undoubtedly, it would be Bach. I’ve always had a special affinity for Bach’s music, which is sublime and transcendent. That’s not to say I don’t love Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, just to name a few, but Bach for me is No. 1. In the early stages of the lockdown I just kept playing Bach. His music is inspiring, empowering, and therapeutic like that of no other composer. I typically perform an all-Bach program every January. In 2016, I presented an Italian Bach program, featuring his Italian-style works, in 2018, I performed all his French Suites; in 2019, all English Suites, and in 2021, showcased seldom-heard Preludes, Fugues and Fantasies, which I entitled Rare Bach. And I am hoping to get to perform his complete Partitas in January 2022!

NYMD: What do you think the future holds for your salon?

YG: It’s so hard to even think of the future right now. I hope that my salons will continue to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, and that more people get to discover them!

Yelena Grinberg’s next salon (No. 237), entitled Romantic Beethoven, is on Wednesday, October 27 at 6:30 PM., showcasing a richly lyrical, all-Romantic program where she’ll be joined by cellist Madeline Fayette. The program includes Beethoven’s celestial Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, op. 102, no. 1, Schumann’s enchanting Five Pieces in the Folk Style for cello and piano, op. 102, Mendelssohn’s ebullient Cello Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Major, op. 45, and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn’s wistful and little-known Fantasia in G minor for cello and piano, inspired by Beethoven. This not-to-be-missed salon is a short walk from the 1/2/3 train at 96th St. To learn more and to register, email her.

A Killer Halloween Multi-Band Extravaganza in Sioux Falls

All it takes is a brief exposure to the free world outside New York to realize the ugly truth that music is way better there. And not just because concerts that everybody can go to actually exist once you leave the five boroughs. Case in point: the five-band Metalween extravaganza in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on the 30th. It’s a stadium-worthy lineup in a comfortable, inexpensive club with cheap beer. The show is ten bucks and starts at 8 at Bigs Bar, at 3110 W. 12th St.

The opening act, slowcore Egyptian expats Grave Solace are cinematic, hypnotic and savagely gloomy: the hammer blows only hit every few seconds. Their dirges have organ and tolling-bell piano along with all of the slow, resonant guitar changes: in Egypt, people smoke a lot of hash.

At 9, the brilliant, politically sharp, antiauthoritarian Silence Is Madness unleash their wildly diverse blend of stoner boogie-influenced sounds, ornate art-rock, heavy psychedelia and conscious hip-hop metal. The next act are a trip to the parking lot. After that, there’s Agony of Defeat, who play a mix of 80s-style goth and industrial metal with hip-hop lyrics: ironically, like Insane Clown Posse with less of a Halloween vibe .

At midnight, Sioux Falls’ own Pray for Villains headline. Their debut ep is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Just when you think the first track, Ego, is going to be a funereal epic, they pick it up, thrash it and bring it home symphonically. Track two, The Lesson veers between distant 90s metalfunk influences, machinegunning thrash riffage, a bizarrely pastoral psychedelic interlude and a pagan feast of furious fret-tapping.

Sweet Vengeance, the final, apocalyptic freedom fighter anthem on the Bandcamp page, has trickier rhythms and doomier changes. With the download, you also get Saving Face, a more straight-ahead, catchy Priest-like track. Pray these villains make it to the east coast someday…or that this blog escapes New York for the Black Hills.